It is the season of SO MUCH. So many festivals, so many school productions, so many gifts to buy or trips to plan. SO MUCH. Add all of this to our days that are already full with work and family and friends and volunteering and those TV shows we love (I’m totally hooked on Criminal Minds again this season), and it can feel like we are drowning.
And where in the world during these very full days do we write? When writing is not a primary (or any-ary) source of income, it is very hard for many of us to prioritize it amidst all the things.
But it is possible – for almost everyone most of the time – to write. But it is hard. Always hard.
We Have to Say No
We can’t do everything. We can’t make the class cupcakes from scratch with the rice flour and the icing made from applesauce and almond butter AND also hand-craft Halloween costumes using only recycled materials that we gathered from our neighbors’ yards on trash day AND bring our bosses organic, free-trade coffee from beans harvested on farms that we can identify on an actual map AND cook meals that include only organic kale and free-range eggs.
Hell, some days we can’t even manage Lunchables, gas station coffee, and boxed mac and cheese.
We all have high expectations for ourselves, and as a culture, we ramp those expectations up all the time, particularly through things like Instagram and Pinterest, where everyone is – of course – putting on their best show. (Glory day, people, the rainbow book stacks. I’d get three books in and have a basset hound take that baby out.)
We have to learn to say no, and we have to learn what we can say no to – extra social gatherings, that hour of overtime that will make our evenings a nightmare, kale – and what can’t go – that extra hour of overtime, some sort of snack for the second grade class, an hour of TV each night while I cross-stitch.
But trust me when I say that every writer who takes her work seriously says no to a lot and often. We simply cannot do everything, and if writing is something we value, then we have to learn to say no to enough things that we make space for it.
And sometimes, that means saying no to writing too if that writing isn’t our primary project. We can’t write all the guest blog posts, do all the interviews, write all the ideas in our heads at the same time. We have to pick and choose.
Some Ways to Make Room for Some
I don’t have the answers to your particular life, but here are a few things I’ve done to help me hold space in my life for writing, even while I work full-time, run a farm, and am the primary caregiver for our almost five-month-old son. My days are quite full, as are yours, but it is possible to write even in these days. I firmly believe that.
- Routine. I am establishing routines for everything I can think of from what I do while my husband gets ready in the morning (unload dishwasher, make bed, get daily load of laundry ready to run) to a routine that gets my social media posts for the day (take pictures while I do farm chores, snap photos anytime I see them, share what I see what I see it and then post while I eat).
- Small segments. I am learning to work in small segments of time (like right now while Milo is napping). I have dispensed entirely with this idea that I have hours to let myself settle in because I don’t. I sit down and go, and I’m able to do that because I’m training myself to think about things as I do other things. Much of my writing gets done in 45 minute segments now, and most of the time, I don’t finish what I start before I get interrupted. But I’m teaching myself to hold a thought until I can get back to it.
- Saying No. I say no to everything I can during the weekdays, and I’m really particular about what I agree to on the weekends. I say no to friends coming by before 4pm. I say no to activities and meetings and volunteering almost always. I have quit boards for organizations I love, and I have stopped trying to be ideal in my food all the time. (Quitting kale has not been a problem for me.) I do my best to be always kind and as healthy as possible in all ways, and often, that means doing less.
- Schedule. I schedule everything. Phone calls with clients have 5 hours open every week. Time with family is planned weeks in advance as are get-togethers with friends. I even contacted my editor and book cover designer for my new book that won’t be ready until spring because I need to have that schedule in mind to get done what I want to do. I don’t schedule my day-to-day very formally because I find that stifling, but I may find that, eventually, I need to do that to to simply be able to do all I want.
Only you can decide what you need to do to find the space and time to do the writing work you want to do, but I know there is time in there . . . if you make the time.
And here’s the bonus – when we pare away all the extra things that we feel obligated to do in favor of the things we really love – if you are the person who takes great joy in making cupcakes with hand-crafted marshmallow ghosts, I LOVE that – we find ourselves not only enjoying our days more but also doing the few things we have chosen with more attention and care than when we tried to do all the things and could only muster mediocre for most of them.
So please, give yourself grace to say no. Learn faster than I did that you can’t please everyone no matter what you do and that trying to do all the things – from every social media site to small batch rice grown by women farmers within 10 miles of your home – will only make you an exhausted person, not a better writer with a stronger following.
And if you’re wondering, Milo will be wearing a store-bought Jack-o-Lantern outfit when we go to the trunk or treat at the high school 10 minutes from home after we eat frozen pizza and drink store brand soda with his grandparents tonight. We will all love it, and I’ll still be functional – and ready for NaNoWriMo* tomorrow. It’s alway about choices, friends. Always.
*My monthly newsletter comes out today – or tomorrow if Milo’s naps aren’t long enough today – and I’ll be talking about why I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. Subscribe here to get the story.